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From the rings to the Octagon

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With international popularity and participation increasing, a future spot for MMA in the Olympics would seem possible.


Mixed martial arts is growing globally at a rapid pace.

This year, the UFC has had events in Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, England, and next week the Octagon travels to Germany.

With international popularity and participation increasing, a future spot for MMA in the Olympics would seem possible -- especially with wrestling, judo, tae kwon do and boxing already in the Games. MMA simply combines those disciplines in one sport.

The Schaumburg-based MMA Sport Federation seeks to foster competition by holding international amateur events in a team format, much like the Olympics.

''There's so much growth worldwide, we saw the potential to put a U.S. team together to compete internationally,'' said Rob Zbilski, president of the MMA Sport Federation.

Zbilski, the coach of the U.S. kickboxing team and owner of Z's Martial Arts Academy in Huntley, has traveled the world competing in, coaching and promoting kickboxing events. Now he has used those connections in the MMASF seeking to build Team USA as a global launching pad for up-and-coming fighters.

''When you look back, the best boxers that ever came out were on the U.S. team -- Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali,'' he said. ''Mixed martial arts doesn't have an Olympic team. We're filling that gap where we can take the best talent. We can have these guys compete at an international level, really get good at their game before they look to make it on the UFC stage.''

In July, the MMASF held its first international competition at Toyota Park in Bridgeview. Team USA faced off against competitors from Poland, Australia and Ireland. A crowd of 2,600 watched the Americans win the event six matches to four.

On Nov. 19, three fighters -- Austin Knight, Jason Slattery and Alexander White -- will represent Team USA when they and coach Joe Worden travel to Livorno, Italy, for a competition.

Zbilski said they plan to have three or four local events each year in which international teams are brought in to compete.

He said the next international show is in the works for January with Brazil or Mexico, and another is planned for March against Ireland.

Both events lead up to the MMA World Championships in Odessa, Ukraine, in June.

The MMASF has talent scouts throughout the country looking for fighters for Team USA. They match them up against team members at smaller events to see how they stack up.

Its next local event is next Friday at Real Time Sports Bar (584 Randall Road) in St. Charles. For ticket information or for fighters looking to compete for a spot on Team USA, visit mmasf.com.

Hooks and jabs

Congratulations to Walter Lis of Indian Head Park. He correctly answered last week's question to win a copy of the new MMA Encyclopedia by Jonathan Snowden and Kendall Shields. During the stare-down, Yoshihiro Nakao kissed Heath Herring, resulting in a most unusual no-contest at the 2005 K-1 New Year's Eve show.

This week's question: When the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts were adopted, wearing wrestling shoes was banned. According to MMA Encyclopedia, why were they outlawed-

E-mail the answer to jsilver@suntimes.com. I'll draw a winner at 5 p.m. today from the correct answers. The winner will receive a copy of MMA Encyclopedia. Look for a final question next week.

*On Saturday, Cut Throat MMA presents a card at the Hammond Civic Center. The first fight begins at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, visit CutThroatMMA.com.

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